The Keys to Adopting a Social PR Mindset: Interview with Expert Shonali Burke


One person effectively communicating a message will have some impact. Many people authentically doing the same will have even greater impact. It doesn’t require a PhD in algebra to figure this out. Unfortunately many in PR are still wed to the old ways of doing things.

Someone who I know that is quite effective in using this social PR approach is Shonali Burke, a consultant based out of Washington DC. In addition to running her own business, Shonali teaches at Johns Hopkins University. She is one of the best in the business when it comes to measurement, a topic I discussed with her on my podcast last year. Below is a Q and A interview with her on the this whole notion of social PR.

As technology has evolved, the tools PR professionals use to accomplish their goals have changed. Yet many PR professionals seem ingrained in still doing things like it was 1995. Why do you think this is?

Shonali: Fear of the unknown, because they haven’t taken the time to experiment with new technologies, never expecting them to pervade our professional lives. Which itself seems really bizarre to me, because new technologies are all about better communication.

So first they dismissed the changes (“it’s kid stuff, I don’t have the time to mess around with this). Now they’re stuck, scared as all get out… but can’t (or won’t) do anything about it.

These changes have led to the idea of doing social PR. There are lots of ideas about what social PR entails? In your opinion, what is involved?

Shonali Burke

Shonali: For me, “Social PR” is about socializing the conversation we generate for and around our organizations/clients, so that we build, motivate and sustain communities of influence to tell our story for us.

It’s a very simple concept, yet a very powerful one. Because what it takes to TRULY socialize conversation is understanding you can’t hide behind gobbledygook, and you have to actually talk and listen to people.

Again – it all sounds very simple, and theoretically it is not hard. But it takes time, patience, tact and a community-minded approach. Otherwise it just doesn’t work.

What are a few simple activities that we can do to adopt this social PR mindset?

Shonali: 1. Listen. 2. Engage. 3. Give give give before you get. 4. Rinse & repeat.

I wrote this up in a humungous blog post based on a free training I did in November 2015, where I introduced my 7C Social PR Framework(TM). These are the principles I came to realize I was using in my own work, with themes that kept showing up.

So I pulled them together into a framework that made sense for me, since I think it’s a concrete approach people can put to use for themselves.

Can you share the story of someone / an organization who successfully went from 1995 ways of doing PR to this social PR approach? How did this person / organization make the change and what were some of the results?

Shonali: USA for UNHCR, when we worked with them on the Blue Key Campaign. They really paid attention to the idea of creating a community of “Blue Key Champions,” and putting that community at the heart of the campaign. And – equally important – they were willing to give it time; they realized it wasn’t going to happen overnight.

Ifdy Perez wrote up a great case study when she was working for Razoo. Thanks to the integrated, Social PR approach, we exceeded the campaign goal, which was to sell 6,000 “blue keys” to raise funds and awareness around the refugee issue.

There were many elements that went into the campaign – not the least of which was being very focused about our metrics on zero budget (so it is possible!) – but if they hadn’t bought into the community-centric approach, none of it would have happened.

What tips can you share on how we can most effectively measure in this social PR environment?

Shonali: Measurement doesn’t necessarily have to be hard, but you do have to put some thought into it.

Figure out what it is you’re trying to achieve; start there and work backwards. Because you must tie your communication goals to business goals, otherwise you’re really shooting in the dark. And like I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be expensive either; we’ve had great success using low-to-no cost tools.

And I will say this – even if you have the budget for sophisticated tools, if you’re not going to put any effort into managing them, they’re a waste of money. So really, the best tool you can use is your brain!

Shonali will be leading a free webinar on how to adopt a social PR mindset. The webinar takes place on Friday, May 13th from 2:00 – 3:00 EST. There is a 24-hour replay for registrants. More information is at